One NICU Family’s Triumph
Taylor and Spencer Moon’s story leading up to their NICU experience was a difficult one. December 2018 was a particularly emotional time. Taylor and Spencer, married for 1.5 years at that time, were approaching the due date of their first baby who they lost that past May to a missed miscarriage. As you can only imagine, Taylor really struggled with the miscarriage. And they struggled trying to conceive again.
Taylor is a postpartum nurse. One morning before her shift Taylor casually took a pregnancy test. To her surprise, she detected the faintest of lines but figured her eyes were playing tricks on her. She tossed the test in the trash and headed to her shift as if it was any other shift.
Coincidentally, a couple of her coworkers asked Taylor if she was expecting, fully aware that she and her husband were again trying to get pregnant after their miscarriage. Taylor brushed them off, but her mind kept wandering back to the pregnancy test she took that morning. Were those faint lines indeed telling her something?
After her shift, she rushed home, changed out of her scrubs, and quickly fished the pregnancy test out the trash. There really was the faintest hint of a line, but she knew almost 14 hours later it could not be trusted. Taylor pondered it all night, not daring to mention it to Spencer and for fear of getting his hopes up, too.
The next day Taylor woke up and decided to take another pregnancy test. They were the “cheapies,” leftover from her miscarriage when she was instructed to use one daily until they turned negative, so she knew the pregnancy hormone HCG was out of my system and they could one again try to conceive. And there it was! The slightest hint of a second line.
It was her day off so after a couple hours of much needed sleep, she hurried to the store and bought every pregnancy test brand they had. She returned home and willed herself to wait 4 hours to make sure her urine was concentrated enough to get accurate results.
And just like that….ALL *6* tests displayed positive results!
Sharing Pregnancy News and Preparing for Baby
Elation turned to anxiety and Taylor promptly burst into tears. Leaving nothing to chance, she scheduled a beta HCG for later that day and by the next morning she got the call confirming the pregnancy. She could hardly wait to surprise her husband with the news after work.
That evening Spencer picked up Taylor from work. She had wrapped up sparkling grape juice and a baby blanket covered in moons that they had purchased during the first pregnancy and left this waiting on the kitchen table. So when Spencer suggested they stop for dinner on the way home, Taylor was antsy the whole time, thinking about that gift on the table.
Finally, they arrived home and Spencer teased her when he saw the gift, playfully scolding her for not being able to wait for Christmas. He opened it and it took him a minute to catch on, but soon enough they were laughing and hugging each other through the tears.
The rest of that Christmas season was a mix between sorrow over their first baby’s due date and joy over their newest bundle. They protectively kept the pregnancy a secret, waiting 3 ultrasounds to share the good news with their families. After 16 weeks before they decided to share their news with the world!
At the gender reveal party, they learned they were expecting another baby girl. It was bittersweet. She would be their second sweet girl, as their first baby was also a girl.
The days ticked by slowly in a way they only seem to while you are pregnant. Taylor rushed to decorate the nursery and shop for baby clothes. Spencer constantly assured her they had plenty of time for that. Overall, things were uneventful and Taylor was feeling a burst of energy that she knew might be short-lived during the second trimester.
The Moons Hit a Bump
On Friday, April 8th, they celebrated Taylor’s mom’s 50th birthday with a trip to a local town known for its hiking and quaint downtown area. Taylor was feeling great even after they spent most of the day walking.
The next morning Taylor and her mom enjoyed pedicures and planned a family cookout for that evening. Taylor stopped at home to pick up Spencer and their contribution to the cookout, and was alarmed to find that she was bleeding. It was the weekend, so she quickly phoned the on call line, all the while gently prodding her belly. Baby girl reassuringly kicked in response and relief washed over Taylor.
The Moons decided to play it safe and headed to the hospital. Taylor was whisked up to labor and delivery, where everyone was relieved to see Baby Girl’s heart beating away and baby turning circles on the ultrasound screen. Taylor was sent home with a follow up appointment and strict bed rest instructions.
At the follow up, they met with Maternal Fetal Medicine who diagnosed Taylor with a partial placental abruption. They explained that a small part of her placenta had pulled away causing the bleeding. Since there was no active bleeding they sent her home and she was told to continue on as usual. The rest of the week passed without much excitement and the bleeding gradually decreased. She could feel baby girl moving more than ever.
The following week Taylor woke up with a start, feeling as though she might have peed herself. She rushed to the bathroom but everything seemed okay. Warily, she got ready for work. But at exactly 8 am, she left a message for her doctor explaining that she might be leaking fluid. It was four long hours before she heard back.
They advised her to come be checked out. Her coworkers urged her to go. By this point Taylor was having a lot of pain in her back, so she called Spencer to come get her from work and took her to the doctor.
Although medical staff assured her that she wasn’t dilating, they did think her water might be leaking. She was sent to the hospital for monitoring and before she knew it, she was tucked into a hospital bed. The Moons half watched HGTV while idly chatting.
Suddenly Taylor felt the strong urge to pee and sat up in bed. With an audible pop, warm fluid gushed beneath her. Alarmed, she told Spencer to go find a nurse while she gingerly made her way to the bathroom. When she returned a bewildered nurse asked her what was going on.
A panicked Taylor told the nurse her water broke, and asked if the baby was coming. The nurse looked at her strangely and asked why she thought that. Taylor couldn’t quite explain what was going on, just that she felt different. The nurse finally called the hospitalist in. The hospitalist checked Taylor, announced that she was fully dilated and could feel the baby’s head.
Suddenly Time to Deliver
Taylor started sobbing as things began moving very quickly around her. A delivery cart was wheeled in as the nurse who Spencer had fetched from the hall coached her. Contractions were suddenly coming rapidly and she fought each one. While the nurse told her to breathe, Spencer grabbed Taylor’s hand and told her everything would be okay. But at just 23.5 weeks pregnant, and as a trained, experienced postpartum nurse, Taylor didn’t have the heart to tell him it wouldn’t be okay.
Taylor refused to push. She knew Baby Girl needed the NICU team to have any chance of surviving. Once they burst into the room, she started pushing. Being so premature her feet quickly entered the world first.
But at this point her heartbeat dropped off the monitors and Taylor feared the worst. That same nurse reassured her that Baby Girl was just too far down to monitor. Her small head got trapped during delivery, making everyone panic. Though it felt like hours, a mere five minutes later Baby Girl fully emerged into the world. Taylor glanced down at baby’s tiny blue body and sobbed as they whisked her to the warmer.
Taylor was hysterical until the nurse grabbed her hand and pointed at the monitor, motioning at the vital signs blinking across the screen
“She’s stable,” the nurse said.
Taylor sat in disbelief as they wheeled her incubator over to the bedside. Her tiny body was encased in a plastic bag to conserve heat, and a tube came from her mouth. The respiratory therapist rhythmically squeezed the ambu bag causing her tiny chest to rise and fall. Even surrounded by equipment, Baby Girl was perfect. Tiny, at a mere 11 inches and 1 pound, 4 ounces, but absolutely perfect.
A Long NICU Stay
The NICU team introduced themselves and told Taylor that Baby Girl was stable enough to transport to the NICU just across the hall. They asked for the baby’s name.
With tears streaming down her face Taylor responded, “Hartley Madelyn.”
They urged Taylor to take a picture of Hartley. She initially declined wanting them to get her to the NICU as quickly as possible. Spencer reassured her it would be ok, and she sent him with Hartley.
After almost 4 hours, Taylor persuaded her night shift nurse that she was stable enough to be wheeled to Hartley’s room. They were restricted to the hall as the team worked to place lines in Hartley’s umbilical cord.
She also had to be reintubated after removing her breathing tube by herself. While this concerned Taylor, her night shift nurse, Michele, assured her that was a good thing. It meant Hartley was spunky and in the NICU they liked spunky.
It was nearly 2 am before the nurse convinced Taylor that she needed to sleep and whisked her away to bed. Spencer remained bedside.
“I didn’t know it, but this was the first of 135 nights I would sleep in that hospital,” Taylor muses.
Taylor, fueled by pure adrenaline, was discharged the next afternoon so she could be with Hartley at all times. At rounds the following morning the doctor looked at their exhausted faces and said, “I don’t think I need to tell you two that she could die.” Their hearts completely sunk.
According to Taylor, “The next couple weeks were a series of ups and downs. They say the NICU is a roller coaster ride and it couldn’t be more true.”
The First Precious Cuddles
Taylor held Hartley for the very first time on Easter Sunday. She was just 6 days old. It took a whole team to move her tiny body and the load of equipment she was attached to, onto Taylor’s chest.
“Kangaroo care they called it. I would come to treasure every single second of it,” Taylor remembers.
On good weeks Taylor would get to hold Hartley every other day, but during rough spots they could go days between holding. During those times Taylor would stroke Hartley’s peach fuzz hair and change every diaper – any little thing to make her feel like she was Hartley’s mom.
Taylor was also busy pumping every three hours around the clock, willing her body to produce the milk Hartley so desperately needed. While not the typical newborn care experience, caring for a NICU baby is emotionally and physically demanding. “NICU life is not for the faint of heart,” she says.
When Hartley was about 2 weeks old Spencer had to return to work. Although his job had been understanding, the Moons knew they had quite a way to go in the NICU and beyond, caring for Hartley.
The day after Spencer returned to work, Hartley hit a rough spot. They couldn’t keep her oxygen up and she was emergently re-intubated in hopes her tube was kinked off.
Ups and downs were hard on the Moons, especially with Spencer being at work. Thankfully, their family was a huge support during this time. Hartley was born during the RSV season, so they were limited to just 4 visitors: Hartley’s grandparents. But that didn’t stop Taylor’s loving sisters from trekking up to the NICU’s family room every couple of days to bring them hot food and provide some distraction from the constant beeping of machines. They also got to know Hartley’s nurses. It made it so much easier for Taylor and Spencer to head upstairs to the family sleeping rooms at night knowing Hartley was in wonderful hands and receiving the utmost care.
An Unexpected Delivery
When Hartley was a couple of weeks old the Moons received a package in the mail from swaddle4swaddle. Taylor’s parents brought it to the hospital for Hartley.
“Inside was the softest swaddle in a sweet and simple blush print. It was perfect for holding her as it was lightweight and she got toasty while doing skin to skin.”
After receiving the donated swaddle, Taylor turned to Audrey and Bear’s website and ordered a couple more swaddles with Hartley’s name on them. They had gone to work decorating her NICU room to make it feel a little more like her nursery. Taylor had been hesitant to order anything for Hartley given her delicate state, but after seeing the swaddles she just knew she needed a couple.
“I loved that because of my purchase, other NICU babies would get a swaddle sent to them, just as Hartley had.”
At around nine weeks old Hartley was extubated. For the first time she was able to take her own breaths with the help of a Sipap machine. This also meant it was time for Taylor to return to work. By this point Spencer was spending most nights at home so he could get some sleep before work and then would come straight to the hospital.
Taylor was staying at the hospital at night, and the days she worked her mom or one of my sisters would stay with Hartley. The NICU nurses were more than capable of watching her but it eased Taylor’s anxiety to have someone with her.
Taylor jumped at any opportunity to connect with Hartley, which meant face timing with her baby girl during pump breaks at work. As soon as Taylor’s 12-hour shift ended, she rushed right back to the NICU to be with Hartley. Being away from Hartley was hard but Taylor did what she needed to do and that meant work.
While they weren’t always together, Taylor and Spencer really leaned on one another during Hartley’s rough patches and celebrated every tiny step.
From the time she was extubated, Hartley really turned a corner. She steadily grew and they were able to put clothes on her for the first time. Hartley’s respiratory support was weaned down and they were able to hold her multiple times a day.
“We were finally able to swaddle her in the beautiful swaddles I had customized just for her.”
Hartley Goes Home
After 135 of the hardest days of their lives, their little girl went home. It was a huge celebration but NICU life didn’t immediately fade away. Hartley was sent home on oxygen with a monitor and a feeding tube. They had dozens of follow up appointments in the months after her discharge. It was overwhelming, but gradually the Moons healed. They learned so much in the NICU. Although it was hard to leave the nurses and medical team behind, Taylor and Spencer knew they were capable of caring for Hartley as her parents. The village that came together during Hartley’s time in the NICU supported the Moons at home, too.
Helping Other NICU Families
Taylor and Spencer felt a need to support other families going through the hard NICU days. At Christmas time they put together support baskets for NICU families at the hospital Hartley stayed at. Taylor also reached out to swaddle4swaddle. Thanks to swaddle4swaddle and their generous donation, the Moons are supplying 100 swaddles to IU North’s NICU for the anniversary of Hartley’s homecoming. A beautiful way to come full circle.
“I will always be a NICU mom. The four months we spent there, as well as a shorter stay with our second baby, will always stay with me. I think it’s safe to say NICU parents are a certain kind of tough. In the very first days of their child’s life they become their advocates.”
Taylor’s Advice for NICU families
- Reach out as you begin your NICU journey, don’t hesitate! Taylor is always happy to talk to other NICU moms and is so thankful for the NICU moms who reached out to her during their NICU journey.
- NICU stays can be isolating. Taylor found a lot of support on internet forums as well as through social media groups.
- Make sure to lean on family and friends. They won’t always understand but let them know ways in which they can best support you.
- Take time to take care of yourself. When Taylor needed a break, she would go home and work on Hartley’s nursery or go grab a bite to eat with her husband. Sitting at your baby’s bedside for hours on end can be emotionally draining.
- Make sure to be kind to yourself. Give yourself some grace and know that you are doing your best.
- Lastly celebrate! Celebrate every milestone. It helps focus on the good. The Moons celebrated every pound gained, every week older, and every obstacle overcome!
September is NICU Awareness Month
Every year during the month of September we recognize and honor NICU families and the medical professionals that care for them.
What does NICU stand for? It is the neonatal intensive care unit and it specializes in the care of premature or ill newborn infants. In the NICU babies receive around-the-clock treatment and care from a team of medical experts.
While the NICU may not be the place you envisioned your newborn being, it is truly the best place for your baby to be properly cared for, grow big and strong, and show you that there are miracles and they are indeed warriors.
You’ve got this, NICU families
Believe in yourself. Believe in your strong baby. Believe in the medical staff. Believe in your support system. Believe in the power of love. Together, you will all do great things and overcome your fears and anxiety. Step by step, day by day, week by week. Celebrate each and every victory.
Remember to take all the pictures, feel all the feels, give yourself grace, and know that deep down you are far more prepared for this journey than you give yourself credit for. You are all NICU warriors.